Village People Threaten To Sue Donald Trump Over Look-alike Band Allegedly Playing at Mar-a-Lago
It's the latest showdown between Trump and a major musical artist who doesn't want to be associated with the former president.
Disco legends Village People sent a cease-and-desist letter to Donald Trump on Monday (May 15), threatening legal action over a costume-clad tribute band at his Mar-a-Lago resort that’s allegedly been performing “Macho Man” and other hit songs without permission.
In the letter, Karen Willis (wife of Village People lead singer Victor Willis) warned Trump’s lawyers that such performances potentially violate federal trademark law by confusing consumers into thinking the real band was playing at the former president’s resort.
Since a video of the Mar-a-Lago performance was posted on Twitter last week, Karen Willis said the band had been “inundated” with social media posts from people who thought it was the real Village People.
“The performance has and continues to cause public confusion as to why Village People would even engage in such a performance. We did not,” Karen Willis wrote in the letter, obtained by Billboard. “Though my husband has tolerated your client’s use of his Village People music, we cannot allow such use by him to cause public confusion as to endorsement.”
In a statement to Billboard on Monday, Trump attorney Joseph Tacopina said: “I will only deal with the attorney of the Village People, if they have one, not the wife of one of the members. But they should be thankful that President Trump allowed them to get their name back in the press. I haven’t heard their name in decades. Glad to hear they are still around.”
Top artists have long chafed at the use of their music by politicians, particularly conservatives. Foo Fighters and John Mellencamp blasted John McCain for using their music during the 2008 presidential election, and Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna and the estate of Tom Petty have all spoken out about their music being used at campaign events for Trump.
Victor Willis has already complained about it once. In June 2020, angered by Trump’s use of police force to clear protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., Victor Willis took to social media to request that the president stop playing his music at events.
Owing to the complex thicket of blanket licenses that govern the public performance of music, it’s actually more difficult than expected for artists to prevent politicians from playing their music at rallies. Many times, artists lack a clear route to take formal legal action, and instead are left to complain in the court of public opinion.
But in the letter this week, Karen Willis says that a live performance by a tribute band dressed to look like Village People — a construction worker, a cowboy, a policeman and so on — crossed the line into a clearer violation of the law by suggesting that the band had endorsed him.
“Your client is hereby on notice that U.S. trademark law protects against the unauthorized use of the Village People image and trade dress,” Karen Willis wrote. “To be certain, the use of the group’s image and likeness at Mar-a-Lago was unauthorized.”
If such performances don’t stop, Karen Willis made a clear threat of legal action: “We shall be forced to bring suit preventing further use, not only of the Village People trademarked image and trade dress, but of the music as well (and we’d hate to have to do that) but such combined use causes public confusion and is suggestive of endorsement.”
The letter gave Trump 10 days to respond.